As Hurricane Florence approaches, North Carolina’s state government has more money in its savings account than it had in past storms — and a higher share of savings than the governments of Virginia and South Carolina, which will also be affected by the storm.
Republican legislators boasted about the size of the state’s “rainy day fund” on Twitter this week. After getting an additional $161 million in this year’s budget, the fund totals about $2 billion, which represents more than 8 percent of the state’s annual spending.
“To put it in perspective, a $2 billion Rainy Day Fund (like maybe for #FlorenceNC) to the state of NC is like a family having one month of emergency funding set aside,” Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican, said on Twitter.
That’s a big increase from 2011, when the state was recovering from the recession and the fund had less than $300 million, according to a 2017 report by Moody’s Investors Service.
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A recent study by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that North Carolina ranks 14th in the country for the number of days state government could operate on the rainy day fund alone. That study was conducted before this year’s budget, at a time the fund stood at $1.8 billion — enough to keep government running for 30.4 days.
Virginia had a rainy day fund of $549 million, or 2.7 percent of annual state spending, and South Carolina had $487 million, or 6.4 percent of annual spending.
On Tuesday, Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, said on Twitter that legislators “need to remember that (a situation like Hurricane Florence) is why the rainy day fund was fully funded. Legislators need to be willing to fund whatever legitimate needs arise from the hurricane, and the (Gov. Roy Cooper) administration needs to get the money out the door.”
Republican lawmakers have faulted Cooper for a slow response to 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. Some federal funds are only now being spent from Matthew.
Cooper’s office has noted that hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster relief has been spent, and has blamed some of the delays in housing money on federal bureaucracy, The News & Observer has reported.
The Republican Senate caucus criticized Cooper on Twitter for having “mocked the state’s Rainy Day fund.” That was a reference to a statement Cooper made in a 2016 Robesonian news article when he was a candidate for governor, in which he suggested that lawmakers should fund education needs instead of adding more to the rainy day fund, which at the time stood at $1.6 billion.
Still, Cooper’s proposed budget for the current fiscal year called for adding $185 million to the rainy day fund — slightly more than the amount in the final budget.
A law passed in 2017 requires every state budget to put into savings at least 15 percent of each year’s revenue growth from the prior year.
But that law also restricts how much of the fund can be spent at once. If in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, legislators seek to spend an amount higher than 7.5 percent of last fiscal year’s total operating budget, they’ll need at least two-thirds of the House and Senate to vote yes.